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Stay Impatient, Stay Persistent on International Human Rights Day

December 10, 2013

Marshet can’t wait to be Ethiopia’s first female prime minister.

And why should she? As the spirited 17-year-old puts it, “Women can do anything men can do.”

Marshet is impatient and persistent. She’s ready to take on the world.

And when the world ensures Marshet’s human rights, nothing can stand in her way.

Today—International Human Rights Day— marks 20 years since the establishment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the global body dedicated to protecting, securing, and advancing human rights everywhere. There is much to celebrate. By working together, human rights advocates have made strides that were unimaginable 20 years ago.

We have expanded the very notion of what “human rights” actually are to include economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights. We have advanced rights for some of the world’s most historically discriminated against groups such as women, racial minorities, indigenous peoples, the LGBT community, and people living with disabilities. We have made human rights center stage in the global conversation about peace, security, and development.

And yet, we know that our work is far from done. We know our work will likely never be finished.

As we mourned the passing of the great leader Nelson Mandela last week, I was reminded of one of his greatest lessons:

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

Mandela is a larger than life reminder that if we want to see change, we must be persistent. We must be impatient. And we must fight injustice when we encounter it.

That lesson is one that Pathfinder took to heart over the last decade, fighting for some of the most vulnerable people we serve, even when it meant taking our biggest funder to the Supreme Court.

It was 2005 when Pathfinder first challenged the Anti-Prostitution Pledge, a law requiring all groups receiving US Government funds for international HIV and AIDS work to have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution. The policy didn’t just violate free speech. It was also delivered a tremendous hit to public health and human rights.

Along with our coplaintiffs, AOSI, Inc., InterAction and the Global Health Council, we knew that the policy would undermine efforts to prevent the spread of HIV as well as intensify stigma and fear among sex workers, driving them further away from HIV education and prevention services.

The decision to challenge the US Government was not one that was made lightly, but it was one Pathfinder made with pride, knowing that we must stand up for our principles even when it meant taking the road less traveled.

This spring, we received the news we had been impatiently waiting for: Pathfinder and its coplaintiffs won the case!

This tremendous victory for human rights is but one of many, many victories in a successful year. A year in which we were inspired by leaders like Mandela, Malala, and Marchet who taught us to put impatience and persistence to work like never before.

Human rights will continue to be challenged in the coming decades and it won’t be an easy fight. But like the many incredible generations before us, we must push forward, impatiently and persistently.

For Pathfinder, that will mean working to ensure men, women, and young people everywhere are ensured their right to compassionate sexual and reproductive health care. For others, it will mean ensuring freedom of speech, food security, political justice, and education.

Today and every day, we celebrate these efforts to protect, secure, and advance human rights. We celebrate impatience and persistence for a better tomorrow.

We’re hungry for change. Are you?

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